Looting is everyone’s concern

SAFE is grateful to Marni Walter for sharing this reflection with us in observance of the 2013 Donny George Candlelight Vigil for Global Heritage.


During the early years of the new millennium, the scope of antiquities looting and destruction of cultural heritage seemed to drastically expand. To all the archaeological damage done for profit to feed the demands of various art markets, we were forced to add incalculable threats from political unrest and wartime conflict.

At that time I was working as an editor at the Archaeological Institute of America (AIA) for the American Journal of Archaeology, while also enrolled as a graduate student in archaeology at Boston University. In heritage management courses, we would compile statistics on the unprovenanced antiquities (most of them!) in the high-end auction catalogs, scrutinize the collections of prominent collectors, and report on the imbalances in wealth of the “source” countries versus the places of import. At the AIA, we debated about whether we should continue to publish using the longstanding von Bothmer publication fund (as Dietrich von Bothmer, a former curator at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, became increasingly criticized for acquisitions, such as the Euphronios krater, in an earlier era of museum practices).

Marni Walter at prehistoric site The author recording excavation details at a prehistoric site in New Hampshire, U.S.A.

We were thrilled when a hefty manuscript by Christopher Chippendale and David Gill landed on the AJA editorial desks: this important and thorough study was published in July 2000 as “Material Consequences of Contemporary Classical Collecting” (AJA 104:463–511). In fact many excellent studies were published in the early 2000s onward that showed the cold hard numbers on archaeological losses. It has been gratifying to see the growth in academic attention to many aspects of cultural heritage protection, with entire conferences (like the subject of my last post) dedicated to the subject. Sharing research among specialists is vital to moving forward, but we also need to talk to everyone else, and gain the support of the widest possible range of people.

When in 2001 the Taliban destroyed the giant Buddha statues at Bamiyan and many others throughout Afghanistan, and in 2003 thieves looted and vandalized the Iraq Museum in Baghdad, the need for broad support (including military personnel among many others) was suddenly more obvious. These events were not at all accidental or collateral war damage, but deliberate actions of hostility. Of course war, and its spoils, have been around since antiquity itself, but now unprecedented levels of media attention followed. Ten years later the reports and the images from the ransacked museum are still vivid. Many people recognized—even in the midst of the human tragedies of war—the dramatic loss of knowledge and spirit of the “cradle of civilization,” and the senseless, destructive impulses that caused it.

As archaeologists, art historians, or other related scholars, we cannot dismiss the issues by saying “looting is not my specialty.” If we believe that our research is important enough or inspiring enough to do in the first place, then doing something about destruction of cultural heritage is simply a fundamental part of our work.

We are fortunate that SAFE was borne out of these circumstances, founded as a response to a dramatic event, but recognizing that the problems would require more ongoing and widespread attention. No single solution will stop or curb looting to any significant degree, but one common thread will help greatly: the public, anyone with any interest in archaeology, history, art history, cultural diversity, etc. So many people are just as fascinated, if not more so, after learning how we gleaned a whole story, an entire village or camp scenario, from mapping the locations of all the stone tools, or bits of ceramics, and whatever small puzzle pieces we found. Many of them will sympathize, and help, if they are aware of the issues.

As archaeologists, art historians, or other related scholars, we cannot dismiss the issues by saying “looting is not my specialty.” If we believe that our research is important enough or inspiring enough to do in the first place, then doing something about destruction of cultural heritage is simply a fundamental part of our work. It could be showing a community the importance of context for what local excavations revealed, or writing in support of a bilateral agreement, or contributing stories or research summaries to SAFE. Whether working on public awareness and action, legislative and policy changes, improved security, or research on causes and effects, SAFE, for ten years running, is an ideal venue to bring all these approaches together.

We can hope that all our efforts will add up to a broad change of public attitude. Convince the next generation of would-be collectors that it’s so old school to hoard priceless artifacts in their houses as knick-knacks on the mantle. Modern “collectors” would rather support an excavation and its related museum displays or public programs. These collectors will find it so much more satisfying to potentially have an excavation or museum display in their name, along with all the information and discoveries that were revealed from it. Future vandals will know that plundering their country’s museums will only rob themselves and their own people of a collective source of wealth. It’s an ideal world, but one worth working toward.

Ultimately, it’s not about saving every individual artifact on the planet. It’s about cultures of all varieties and sizes flourishing and retaining their uniqueness, the pieces that tell their story. It’s about respecting cultures and environments that are not our own, and, to paraphrase SAFE founder Cindy Ho, choosing to live in a world with a rich cultural heritage.

Photo: “The opposite of looters’ pits. Scientific excavation is key to a wealth of information about the past,” by Marni Walter

Long Walks in the Museum

I met Cindy Ho when she was getting SAFE off the ground 10 years ago. At that time I was involved in the advertising industry as a creative technician, and beginning to question its ethical environment. It was exciting to volunteer for SAFE. One of the reasons SAFE was (and is) exciting is its explicit use of rhetorical technique to initiate conversations around shared cultural concerns.

As an artist whose concerns lie in the social environment, I am interested in the present moment. However, it is in few places more clear that the present moment is linked to historical circumstance than in a museum. How are we personally connected, or not connected to cultural lineage on display? What are the quotidian conversations associated with exceptional objects? And how are they affected by the architecture that houses them, the other people that share the space?

This weekend I am organizing a public project called Long Walks in the Museum that positions people in relation to art. It is a sequence of scheduled one-on-one walks that pass through galleries designated “Egyptian”, “American”, “Medieval”, “European”, “African/Oceanic/American”, and “Greek” in one of the preeminent cultural institutions of New York City.

This is the third in a series of one-on-one walks that ask two strangers to navigate interpersonal and real space together, done is association with the Flux Factory and the Walk Exchange. Several appointments are still open, and can be arranged by calling 917-300-9521.

Say YES to Turkey?

Recently, the government of Turkey requested the return of dozens of allegedly looted antiquities from American museums. The items being sought currently reside in museums all over the country, including the J. Paul Getty Museum, the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City, Bowling Green State University, the Dumbarton Oaks Institute in Washington, D.C., and the Cleveland Museum of Art. You can view a complete list of the Cleveland objects and read more about the situation at Chasing Aphrodite.

Portrait of a Man, Bronze headOne of the items Turkey has requested is this bronze head currently on view at the Getty Villa. Portrait of a Man. (73.AB.8)

The Republic of Turkey is the home of cultural resources of extraordinary historical breadth and significance.  Catal Huyuk, Troy, Ephesus, Pergamum, Didyma, Halicarnassus, Priene, Sardis, Hattusas-Bogazkoy, Aphrodisias, Antioch, Beycesultan, the Blue Mosque and Hagia Sophia in Istanbul and the underwater Uluburun shipwreck are only a handful of the significant sites in Turkey that hold singular importance to the cultures of the Neolithic, Anatolian Bronze Age, Hittites, Phrygians, Lydians, Ionian Greeks and the Eastern Roman, Byzantine and Ottoman Empires.  Turkey contains more ancient Greek sites than Greece, more Roman sites than Italy and, most importantly, a vast number of undiscovered sites dating to its 10,000 years of history.

Because of a consistent demand for the types of antiquities that can be found among its stunning cultural wealth, Turkey is continuously victim to the looting and destruction of its archaeological and historic sites.  In 2010 alone, some 68,000 stolen artifacts were seized from nearly 5000 people involved in smuggling rings.  The number of objects that were not rescued and flowed into the illicit international antiquities market is unknown.

For more information on the protection of Turkey’s cultural heritage visit the SAFE resources section.

Returns to Italy from North America

Featured

Various antiquities from Princeton University Art Museum, a healthcare company, a New York gallery, and a New York private collector linked to the Metropolitan Museum of Art have been returned to Italy.

It is hoped that a more detailed list will appear shortly.

The museum and gallery have already returned items to Italy.

Made whole, the "Weary Herakles" reunites in Turkey

At last, the Boston Museum of Fine Arts has returned the top half of the “Weary Herakles” to Turkey, as previously suggested here. The agreement to transfer ownership of the statue was signed on September 23, between the Museum and the General Directorate for Cultural Heritage and Museums of the Ministry of Culture and Tourism of the Republic of Turkey.

According to the Museum’s press release, the “agreement acknowledged that the MFA acquired the object in good faith and without knowledge of any ownership or title issues[italics added]. It also provided for the transfer of the object, which took place after the signing.”

The return of the Weary Herakles to Turkey, preceded by the repatriation of antiquities from Italy by the Metropolitan Museum (shortly before the publication of the 2006 book The Medici Conspiracy by SAFE Beacon Award recipients Peter Watson and Cecilia Todeschini) and the return of antiquities to Greece and Italy by the Getty Museum (as discussed in the book Chasing Aphrodite by 2011 SAFE Beacon Award recipients Jason Felch and Ralph Frammolino), confirms the long-held belief at SAFE that ownership “without knowledge of any ownership or title issues” is not a position that a principled institution or collector can maintain or defend. See our Statement of Principles. Let’s hope the practice of acquiring unprovenanced artifacts without asking questions is truly coming to an end.

Colin Renfrew on unprovenanced antiquities: challenges, scandals and responsibilities

In less than 18 minutes, Professor Colin Renfrew covers a lot of ground and an array of issues in the 2008 video “The issue of unprovenanced antiquities” here (Part 1) and here (Part 2). It’s a summary of the issues SAFE addresses, well worth viewing.

Beginning with how he came around to take a “purist position” against publishing unprovenanced material, Renfrew recalls founding the Illicit Antiquities Research Centre with Neil Brodie, the scandal at Sotheby’s and Peter Watson‘s investigations, the UNESCO Convention, and Britain’s implementation of The Dealing in Cultural Objects Offences Act in 2003.

Critical of collectors of antiquities without context, Renfrew also admonishes a number of museums which “are quite disgraceful and lead the world in purchasing antiquities without provenance…in effect, indirectly, they’re supporting and financing the destruction of the world’s archaeological heritage.” They include the Metropolitan Museum of Art*, Boston Museum of Fine Arts, and the Art Institute of Chicago. He points out the J. Paul Getty Museum for acquiring looted objects against his objections “but they didn’t want to be told that at that time.” This refers to the scandal in the recent book Chasing Aphrodite. Although, he adds, “the Getty has now I think, learned from experience and now has an acceptable acquisitions policy…”

The video ends with the Sevso Treasure scandal as well as the problem of the incantation bowls.

Thank you, Web of Stories, for sharing these informative videos with us on SAFE’s Colin Renfrew Facebook page. We look forward to highlighting some other videos in upcoming posts.

*A year after the video was taped in 2008, upon receiving confirmation about the Met’s adherence to AAMD guidelines Renfrew congratulated the Museum for making progress at SAFE’s New York City lecture “Combating the Illicit Antiquities Trade: A Time for Clarity”. The confirmation arrived 2 weeks before the lecture.

Aphrodite of the Muckrakers

Chasing Aphrodite: The Hunt for Looted Antiquities at the World’s Richest Museum is the story of how the J. P. Getty Museum has collected Greek and Roman antiquities since its inception in 1953, told from the inside out. The authors, Jason Felch and Ralph Frammolino, both reporters from the Los Angeles Times (Frammolino has since moved on), have assembled an extraordinary array of sources with which they tell a story the Getty wants no one to know: how the museum knowingly purchased looted and fake antiquities, misled foreign governments in their attempts to reclaim stolen property, laundered stolen antiquities through an illegal tax scheme and adopted extraordinarily conservative acquisitions policies while at the same time actively buying from the illicit antiquities market. It is a story of the astounding mismanagement of opportunities, resources, human capital and global reputation. Put one way, it is confirmation of the worst many suspected about curatorial caprice and institutional duplicity. Put another way, if you’re interested in issues surrounding the illicit antiquities trade, collectors and the Classical world, you can’t put the book down.

First of all, it is the materials with which this story has been put together that are significant. In the Notes section at the end of the book, Felch and Frammolino describe these:

The backbone of this account is a trove of thousands of pages of confidential Getty records provided by half of dozen key sources at various levels of the institution. They include a confidential institutional history of the Getty as narrated by two generations of its leaders; a complete list of art purchased by the museum from 1954 to 2004, with the price paid for each piece; the private correspondence and contemporaneous handwritten notes of several top Getty officials; museum files on the contested antiquities and suspect dealers; and records detailing several internal investigations conducted over the years by various teams of Getty lawyers (319).

These were compiled, acquired and collected over the several years Felch and Frammolino worked the Getty Museum beat for the LA Times, for which they were finalists for the 2006 Pulitzer Prize for Investigative Reporting. Chasing Aphrodite thus is the conclusion of their efforts on the case and reflects the authors’ depth of knowledge and considerable analytical skill.

Felch and Frammolino begin at the beginning, with the foundation of the Getty and it is an unexpected story. The John Paul Getty Museum, unlike other major American collecting institutions which include a considerable amount of antiquities, was founded by one individual and with the sole purpose of affording this one man a tax write off. Its domestic peer institutions such as the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Art Institute of Chicago, the University of Pennsylvania Museum, and the Museum of Fine Arts Boston, all begun in the decade of the 1870s, were founded directly in association with an educational institution or explicitly aimed at public consumption in the nineteenth century tradition of civic education. Unlike these quasi-academic institutions, the Getty, from its beginning, was run not by scholars of art, those with experience administering cultural institutions or people familiar with non-profit work. Rather, from its inception, the Getty was run by businessmen, mostly from Wall Street and the energy industries. Indeed, John Paul Getty himself ran the museum until his death in 1976, at which point it was overseen by a board he had stacked with his accountant, a Getty Oil executive, Harold Berg, Getty Oil’s outside attorney, his two sons Ronald and Gordon and his Italian art advisor, Frederico Zeri. To say that the culture of for-profit, big-game, arrogant corporate leadership pervaded the museum for it first decades would be an understatement. This management style, as the authors illustrate, fostered, among other things, extravagant acquisitions regardless of the liability of such and ineffectual curatorial oversight.

Indeed, the corporate and decidedly un-academic flavor of the Getty was heightened after the death of its founder through the reorganization of the Getty museum into the Getty Trust, an umbrella organization for the museum but also other arts-related institutions. Who was hand-picked for the development of this bold new vision? The just retired chairman of the Securities and Exchange Commission (not a body known for its work in the arts), Harold M. Williams. Under Williams, Jiri Frel served as the first curator of antiquities, hired away from the Greek and Roman department at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Frel was academic enough, for sure, having studied at the Sorbonne and taught at Charles University in his native Czechoslovakia as well as Princeton University. But, as Felch and Frammolino describe, Frel’s knowledge of ancient art was far outweighed by his breathtaking corruption.

During Frel’s eleven year tenure at the Getty he instigated a massive tax fraud scheme which was hatched together with the antiquities dealer Bruce McNall, whose silent partner and supplier was Robert Hecht (currently under indictment in Italy for conspiracy to traffic stolen antiquities). The scheme would run like this: those on McNall’s rich and famous client list interested in tax deductions would “buy” an antiquity from McNall, supplied by Hecht. The buyer would then turn around and donate the piece to the Getty at a greatly inflated value, thanks to the appraisals of Frel’s friend Jerome Eisenberg, owner of Royal Athena Gallery. The Getty received a steady stream of smaller antiquities to “round out” the collection, pieces which the board would likely not have approved for purchase (as they were desirous of larger and more impressive acquisition) and the donors received a tax write off. The numbers on this scheme are staggering; for four years, over one hundred donors gave six thousand antiquities to the J. Paul Getty Museum, the wealthiest museum in the world, at a value of $14.7 million dollars (36).

A win/win; a victimless crime. No harm, no foul. No doubt this is how Frel figured it. But there is harm here, and plenty of it. Never mind good old-fashioned tax fraud, which bilks the US government and puts a greater tax burden on those who actually pay taxes. The harm here is in the source of these antiquities. Hecht, as illustrated in Peter Watson and Cecellia Todeschini’s The Medici Conspiracy and evidenced by his indictment, was supplied by tombaroli. Six thousand small pieces over four years are no doubt the yield of tens of thousands of plundered tombs and villas, illegally dug trenches and holes. What was lost to “fund” this tax scheme and the “rounding out” of the Getty’s collection? We will never know.

One wonders what Frel’s intentions really were with this scheme. The authors argue that Frel’s interest was scholarly, and to grow a study collection for the museum. Yet, when Frel is asked to leave in 1984 after the tax scheme and other equally radical improprieties are revealed to upper management, the authors report that some 800 objects were found with little or no documentation (55). As part of his scheme, Frel would regularly falsify the ownership histories of the “donated” objects, which corrupted the academic record. If Frel’s aims at the Getty were scholarly, how can this be accounted for? The authors attribute Frel’s behavior to his status as a political refugee from the Eastern block (26). This may or may not be true but certainly his dishonesty and vice found a unique level of tolerance (or willful ignorance) within the particularly corporate management environment of the Getty.

But, corporate style, poor oversight and shenanigans in the antiquities department didn’t end with Frel. Harold Williams’ retirement from the Getty Trust in 1998 brought in Barry Munitz as President and CEO. Indeed, Munitz has an academic background, a PhD in comparative literature from Princeton but, instead of teaching or research, he almost immediately began working in university administration, becoming chancellor of the University of Houston’s Main Campus at a sage 35 years old. He then left academia for real estate and forestry speculation as well as serving as chairman of the Texas Savings and Loan Association. The Texas Savings and Loan Association was seized by federal regulators in 1988, the fifth largest bank failure in American history at the time. From there Munitz had moved on to Chancellor of the California State University system, the largest higher education system in the country. In this position, Munitz was one of the most influential leaders in employing a for-profit model to higher education, viewing students as customers. When Munitz replaced Williams as the head of the Getty Trust, its valuation was $4.3 billion. Interestingly, not long after his appointment he settled his savings and loan suit and, stemming from the charges of enriching himself with improper and excessive compensation and irresponsible allocation of assets on junk bonds and loss real estate, he was barred from working at a bank or similar business for three years. As the Felch and Frammolino point out, curiously, this did not bar him from directing one of the largest public trusts in the world.

It was under Munitz that Marion True flourished as curator of antiquities and it was her exploits which occupy much of Chasing Aphrodite. True has left an indelible mark on the Getty Villa, the stand-alone collection of antiquities of the Getty Museum; three quarters of the materials on display were acquired under her era. Indeed, True emerges as a genuinely fascinating character in the book, from her working-class, grasping mid-western beginnings to her schizophrenic behavior at the Getty during which she simultaneously championed the rights of source countries to fight the illicit antiquities trade, crafting a uniquely conservative museum acquisitions policy while at the same time actively buying looted antiquities from notorious dealers like Hecht and Medici. There are at least a couple of ways to understand how this was tolerated. One is yet again an example of the sort of corporate hands-off, or just plain incompetent, management style that allowed a tax scheme such as Frel’s to thrive. The other is more nefarious, which is that this behavior was known and condoned.

As Felch and Frammolino describe, True was hired at the Getty by Frel as an assistant in the antiquities department, not yet having finished her Harvard PhD. Before the Getty, True had not only worked for a corrupt Newburyport art dealer Steven Straw, but engaged in an unsuccessful and badly ended business venture with Bruce and Ingrid McAlpine, two of London’s most prominent antiquities dealers. But, with Frel’s departure from the Getty in 1985, True’s star soon rose, being promoted to associate antiquities curator. It was at this point that the Getty experienced its first public scandal involving an antiquities purchase, that of an Archaic Greek Kouros statue.

The story of the Getty Kouros is well known but what Felch and Frammolino add is the inside dope. We learn how Federico Zeri vocally denounced the Kouros a fake and within the institution there was a vigorous debate about its purchase. As a part of this debate, the authors’ research reveals that the curators and managers at the Getty were well aware of the illicit nature of many antiquities on the market. It is made clear from internal documents that Arthur Houghton, associate antiquities curator, had warned Getty management about the questionable origins of the Kouros, a purchase Frel had initiated and for which he provided forged provenance documents.

Indeed, the documentation Chasing Aphrodite presents regarding just how much curators, general counsel, the museum director and CEO of the Getty trust knew about antiquities purchases is one of the most significant aspects of the book. For instance, the authors reveal that during the internal machinations over the purchase of the Kouros, CEO Williams complained to John Walsh, the director of the museum, that “much of the conversation [regarding the liability of purchasing the Kouros] is to the effect that 90% of the objects on the market are presumed to have recently come out of Italy or Greece.” (58) Moreover, Houghton, in conversation with Getty attorney Bruce Bevan (quoted in Houghton’s notes) stated “the reality is that 95% of the antiquities on the market have been found in the last three years.” (61) The Kouros was purchased in 1985 for $7million.

Another example of the knowledge insiders at the Getty had about the illicit antiquities market shown in the book is when, in 1985, Maurice Tempelsman, an art collector, sold eleven of his best pieces from his antiquities collection to the Getty for $16 million, including a spectacular marble group depicting two griffins ripping into a fallen doe, complete with ancient paint still visible. Because of the importance of this and two other pieces, the Getty commissioned Cornelius Vermeule of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston to write a study of them to accompany their debut at the museum. In the piece Vermeule argued that the stylistic similarity of the three objects indicated that they were from the same workshop. Being the case that these objects were bought from the market and no information as to their archaeological provenience existed, this was an argument made purely on visual examination. Houghton contacted Medici, from whom Tempelsman originally bought the pieces, to ask what he knew about where they came from. What he gets back from Medici, which he documents in an internal Getty memo, in part refutes Vermeule’s professional opinion but, amazingly, documents the dirty story of the looting of the pieces. “Medici said that he had purchased all three from Italian looters in 1975 or 1976. Two of the objects had indeed been found in the same tomb (which add strength to a same-workshop theory), in some ruins just outside Taranto, a thriving center of art in ancient times. The griffins had been found in the ruins of a villa some 150 to 200 meters away.” (66)

And as another example, among the evidence sized in the Giacomo Medici trial, prosecutor Paolo Ferri finds a letter True had written to Medici asking for information about a group of Greek olpae the Getty had bought from him. Apparently an assistant curator was writing a PhD dissertation on the pieces and True wanted to know where they were from. Medici had written back with helpful details, informing True that the pieces had been found in Monte Abatone , a necropolis in Cerveteri, even describing the tomb itself and offered her other objects that had been found there (212).

These three examples illustrate that those at all levels at the Getty knew that the antiquities they were acquiring were looted. As the authors state in a footnote (331), “from as early as April 1984,….American museum officials were well aware that they were buying recently looted objects, a charge they vehemently deny to this day.”

The story above involving Marion True and her inquiry to Medici about the olpae is one of many which serve to show the duplicity of her character. What is compelling about True isn’t so much the sad story of an individual who knowingly did what she knew was illegal, immoral and harmful to her profession in order to further herself personally; indeed, this is an old story. What is compelling is that this duplicity, ironically, help forge some of the strictest acquisition policies of any US museum.

True and her care for the Getty’s antiquities collection policies began in 1986 when Robin Symes, notorious antiquities dealer, offered her a spectacular, slightly larger than life-sized, extremely rare, limestone and marble acrolith sculpture representing Aphrodite. A sculpture of such type, size and quality would have been known if had been discovered either in the distant past or more recently in legal excavation. It was still encrusted with soil and had fresh breaks which divided it into three equal parts, a classic smuggler’s trick. The sculpture was clearly looted but True was determined to have it despite the recent Kouros scandal. As the Getty’s acquisition policy stood, the purchase of suspect objects was prohibited; it obliged the museum to abide by US and international laws and required inquires with presumed source countries. The director of the Getty Museum, Walsh, who was bent on acquisitions regardless of the law or loss of knowledge, sought to adopt more liberal guidelines, especially those which would accommodate the purchase of the Aphrodite. A new policy, approved by the Getty board in 1987, crafted by Walsh, True and Getty counsel Bevan was trumpeted by True in internal documents as going “beyond what is demanded by the law….and abid[ing] by the highest possible ethical standards.”(91). It in fact made ignoring antiquities laws museum policy; it put the burden of proof on the dealers who offered the pieces for sale and made necessary inquiries to source countries only if there was evidence of looting of such object that the Getty wanted to buy. The first requirement was a joke, given how those at the Getty knew that the dealers from whom they bought antiquities were highly immoral and the second requirement was toothless as most source countries do not have the resources to prevent or even be fully informed about what pieces are being looted and taken across their borders. The Aphrodite would be purchased and the museum would effectively institutionalize its ability to acquire any antiquity it wanted.

Indeed, this would seem to support the notion that True was keen to collect and had little problem with depleting the cultural resources of source countries. However, Felch and Frammolino then describe a curious course of events. True and her associate curator, John Papadopolous, were contacted by an Italian archaeologist working at the site of Francavilla Maritima, who told them that several objects donated under Frel and his tax write-off scams had almost certainly been looted from an area of the site. Papadopolous, working in the archives, established that the pieces had been purchased by Frel with full knowledge that they had been looted from that exact site. The Italian authorities were notified and the Getty laboriously documented the pieces before they were returned. True’s efforts to make right the wrong of her predecessor Frel, won her glowing comments from the Italian Carabinieri and fame for her boldness and forward thinking. Where is True’s acquisitive nature here? How did she square this return with the purchase of the Aphrodite?

Not even ten years later, in 1995, True and Papadopoulos proposed a new and truly stringent acquisition policy for the Getty, far more stringent than any other American museum. No object could be acquired by the Getty, by purchase or donation, which lacked documented ownership prior to the year of the adoption of the policy. But, only the next year, in 1996, the Getty agreed to accept a gift of most of the impressive Fleischman collection of antiquities, many of which were of highly questionable origins. The Getty itself had published the collection (in hopeful anticipation of receiving it later) in 1994 and this was offered by True as sufficient to meet the requirements of the new acquisition policy. Despite this double-dealing, True continued to tout the Getty’s new policy widely. At a 1998 conference at Rutgers University on art, antiquity and the law, she signed a resolution calling for long-term loans of ancient art from source countries and declared she was looking forward to a new era of the “sharing of cultural properties rather than their exploitation as commodities.” Six months later, she appeared at a National Arts Journalism Program event at Columbia University, at which she expressed “serious reservations” about the curatorial activities of museums that kept buying “simply to put material in the basement.” (164)

With this all behind her, in March of 2002, True proposed the purchase of a half life-sized, 3rd century bronze figure of Poseidon. Although it appeared to meet the new 1995 strict Getty acquisition policy (it had been known of since the late 1970’s and its ownership history was clear since then), it was being offered for sale by Robin Symes. As Felch and Frammolino’s sources show, this fact sent up alarm bells in the deputy director’s office and with further investigation by Colby in the General Counsel’s office it was discovered that the import paperwork on the statue had been forged and that in the late 1970’s the piece had been the subject of a major controversy after the Carabinieri told the British media that the statue had been found in the Bay of Naples and smuggled out of Italy. That True could have trusted Symes is unbelievable and that she would have been ignorant of the questionable background of the piece is unbelievable as well. As Ludovic de Walden, an outside counsel hired by the Getty to vet the proposed purchase of the piece is quoted as saying, True would have had to be “insane” to propose buying the Poseidon (221) – that is to say insane given what she had been saying all over the place about how above-board the Getty’s acquisitions would now be.

But, the downfall of Marion True had already begun and was intimately connected to the Italian investigation into the Giacomo Medici illicit antiquities cordata explain?, best described in The Medici Conspiracy. To make a long story short, during the course of the investigation two spectacular pieces of evidence were uncovered. The first is a written organizational chart, an organogram, which illustrated the supply and demand structure of Medici’s market. At the top of the chart, chief among the demand-side players, was listed the J. Paul Getty Museum. The other spectacular piece of evidence was a stash of Polaroids of hundreds of objects freshly looted, several which ended up in American public and private collections, including the Getty. The Getty became a focal point of two separate prosecutions, not only against the museum per se, but against Marion True herself.

The inside perspective which Felch and Frammolino provide on the Italian case against True shows a few things. One is that, indeed, as True has alleged (most recently in LA Times in January, the Getty was more than willing to throw her under the bus despite her years of obsequious service. Already in January of 2001, an internal memo from Getty counsel Richard Martin advised Getty CEO Munitz that True might have to suffer as collateral damage in the fight with the Italians. Then in early 2002, Frieda Tchacos, a long-time antiquities dealer, was arrested on a warrant for her involvement in an Italian looting case. In Ferri’s interrogation of her, she confirmed suspicions that True had helped build the Fleischman collection with the intention of eventually receiving it at the Getty. This gave Ferri enough for conspiracy charges against True and would become central to the Italian case against her. In late 2002 the Frederick Schultz case ends in a conviction on one felony count of violating the National Stolen Property Act for trafficking in illicit Egyptian antiquities in the US. This sent out shock waves and Felch and Frammolino describe a confidential meeting among the directors of select American museums (the MMA, Cleveland, Chicago and the Getty) at which it was determined that the requests and legal actions from source countries were a genuine problem. The conclusions of the meeting were only made more urgent for the Getty as at the end of 2003, the Medici trial began, featuring much damning evidence involving the institution. In December of 2004 Medici was found guilty of trafficking stolen Italian antiquities (a decision which was upheld on appeal in 2009) and Marion True was next in the crosshairs of the Italian court.

Judge Guglielmo Muntoni, who had presided over the Medici trial, was assigned to the preliminary hearing of the True case. The authors’ interviews with Muntoni reveal that he had sympathy with True, believing that she wanted to change things in American museums but her job required her to acquire looted antiquities. Be that as it may, Muntoni saw his way clear in April of 2005 to hand down an indictment ordering True to stand trial.

Back Stateside, the investigations and secretly leaked documents upon which Chasing Aphrodite are based began to be revealed in a string of articles in the LA Times and, at the end of 2005, the most damning revelation about True hit the presses: she had accepted a personal loan from the antiquities dealer Christos Michaelides and repaid that with another personal loan, this from the Fleischmans, both people from whom the Getty has purchased antiquities. This was the final straw which led the Getty board to ask for True’s resignation. (266) The balance of Chasing Aphrodite follows the shuttle diplomacy between the Getty and Italy, instigated in January 2006 by the new CEO Michael Brand, which results in an agreement in August of 2007 for the return of forty objects, including the Aphrodite acrolith. The removal from the Getty Villa galleries of the materials returned to Italy marks the close of Chasing Aphrodite. As the authors briefly note, in November of 2010 the case against the former Getty antiquities curator was dropped due to the statue of limitations on the case having been reached. This was an expected outcome; it was understood that the indictment was enough, to send a message to American museums. As reported on a New York Times blog at the time, Ferri was quoted as saying that the trial had worked as a signal to museums; with the trial, he said, “Italy showed that it wanted to break with past practices.” True was collateral damage, indeed.

Felch and Frammolino, at the very end of their Epilogue, look back at the era of Marion True at the Getty and surmise that it is a thing of the past; that the fall of Marion True has forged “a peace between collectors and archaeologists, museums and source countries.” (312) This is a desirable sentiment and indeed a fine way to end a book the likes of which they have so aptly written. It is, unfortunately, not particularly true. One need merely browse through, for instance, the postings on David Gill’s blog Looting Matters to see the activities of institutions such as the Mougins Museum of Classical Art in France, the Miho Museum in Japan, the National Archaeological Museum in Madrid, Spain, The Minneapolis Institute of Arts, or the Princeton University Art Museum to ascertain that there is little peace. And, these examples include only works of art from the ancient Classical world. Indeed, there is also little peace between the museums and collectors all over the world who are quietly amassing collections of African, Southeast Asian, Far Eastern and South and Central American art and the pillaged and often indigent and politically unstable regions from which these objects come.

If only a peace could be forged without an end to the demand side of the illicit antiquities trade. But, it cannot; as long as there is a robust demand for antiquities they will be looted. As long as any archaeological site is violated, historical monument is compromised or museum is broken into in order to feed the demand for the purchase of antiquities regardless of the loss of knowledge, we all, as inheritors of the earth’s (not just the Classical world’s) cultural heritage, must strive to bring this filthy, dark, destructive market to public attention. Chasing Aphrodite is a work in this vein and this author is grateful for it.

Will museum displays tell it as it is?

Derek Fincham’s post Paracas Textiles makes an interesting point about an exhibition of endangered textiles from Peru in the Museum of World Culture, Gothenburg, Sweden. Entitled “A Stolen World”, the exhibition not only highlights one of “the most sought-after heritage objects in the illegal market”, it describes how the textiles were looted and donated to the Ethnographic Department of Göteborg Museum. In plain, simple language. No disguise, no nonsense.

When will the Museum of World Culture’s U.S. counterparts follow suit? We think that they could do a better job educating the public simply by telling us what the museums themselves already know. One such rare example is described here where provenance was the topic of exhibit discussion.

The recent SAFE Tour led by Haidy Geismar brought this deficiency into sharp focus. The newly renovated Pacific Hall of the Rockefeller Wing at the Met is filled with objects with virtually no descriptive text about the people, and how the objects were used, or are still being used. A tiny map on the wall of one of the entrances is hardly visible and mostly overlooked. Left without information, a visitor can only respond to superficial qualities. If something pleases the eye, one can then imagine how an object would look in their home. Not much more.

Museum visitors deserve more. “All that matters is how it looks” doesn’t work anymore.

Phoot: Museum of World Culture

Shelby White’s Foundation Expansion

In February 2010 the billionaire Shelby White created a selected group of individuals to function within the Leon Levy Foundation, its purpose to “make available information” from excavated sites that have not been published. But information only from nations having a partage system at the time of excavation, i.e. a division of finds between the host nation and the excavators, are eligible. But archaeologists—the Foundation’s new group excepted—knowledgeable of Plunder Culture actions are aware that they consider plundered antiquities to be a “partage,” exploiting its neo-logistic coinage by J. Cuno. An example is White’s refusal to return to Turkey half of a statue of Herakles plundered from Perge, purchased from an antiquity dealer, thus normal partage to this group. The Foundation’s statement suggests that the publication of unexcavated plundered antiquities will not be excluded from funding.

The Foundation’s new group has ten members. White is an antiquity collector, who is the Chair, determined by her financial gift. The other members include four museum Directors (T. Potts, R. Hodges OBE, J-F. Jarrige, and S. Herbert), and one ex-Director (de Montebello); one museum curator (D. Arnold); a number of “distinguished archaeologists” (Rose, Hodges, Potts, S. Heath and S. Minyaev). They will determine who gets/is denied publication funds. Four of the members are museum Directors, one an ex-Director, and one an antiquity collector: the majority of the members.

Brian Pennsylvania Rose, Deputy-Director of the University of Pennsylvania Museum, is the President of the said-to-be Archaeological Institute of America. He is infamous for crippling the AIA, smilingly reaching out to the plunderers, proclaiming that plunderers and archaeologists have a “Common Ground.” He first linked the AIA to plundering activities by declaring Indiana Jones, an archetype plunderer, as a model “in stimulating the public’s interest in archaeology….as a benefit to archaeology….archaeologists…dig Indy.” Rose celebrated the actor who played Indiana Jones at an AIA Gala “Honoring” party, and had him appointed a Trustee of the AIA (Personal disclosure: I resigned from the AIA last year after more than 50 years’ membership). And now he has carried his goals further by becoming a supporter of White. In published photos he is posed next to White, both collegially smiling. Rose has now added Shelby to his list of those plunderers he digs Query: will he soon get her an appointment as Trustee of the AIA? Hodges has written for and advised the antiquities dealer Jerry Eisenbergs’s plunder-defender journal Minerva, which for years contained advertisements from antiquity dealers. He was quoted in the New York Times 12/6/07: 10) condemning Fordham University’s Museum for accepting a gift of plundered antiquities: “The message it sends is there is nothing wrong with looting and buying illegal objects,” the very same message he now blithely proclaims: because he digs Shelby (and her potential gifts to his Museum).

Potts abandoned archaeology to become a plunder supporter as Director of the Kimball Art Museum to “build up” its antiquity collection; he is now Director of the Fitzwilliam Museum at Cambridge. Heath has served as Vice President of the Un-Professional Committee of The AIA. He is also a Visiting Scholar at White’s Institute. De Montebello is the group’s Special Advisor” At The Metropolitan Museum de Montebello has purchased hundreds of antiquities from all over the world, as “partage” from “source nations”. He has also named an MMA gallery in White’s name. Minayev may be an innocent bystander. No Foundation member will serve archaeology; they will defer to de Montebello and White.

Rose and Hodges have now brought the AIA and the University Museum further into the depths of the plunder culture. Query: are there any honest archaeologist members among the AIA’s Officers and Trustees who will react to this, impeach its President? Surely no member of the University Museum’s Governing Board will react to Hodges; he has an OBE. Furthermore, excavations conducted by Rose/ Hodges’ museum not under partage (its correct meaning) are not eligible for publication funding by the Foundation of which they are prominent members. Thus, sites like Gordion in Turkey that remain to be fully published will be denied Foundation funds!

My position on raising funds for publication has been stated by me for some time in lectures and publications. I have no objection, archaeological or moral, to archaeologists seeking funds from White (I even once asked her Foundation to fund an archaeological publication; she refused): provided they do not cater to her, or support her plunder activities as return payment, viz. Lawrence Stager of Harvard University. K. D. Vitelli received money from White, but never ceased to oppose her and other plunders, for which she was criticized for not supporting her in her partage activities. Further, I do not oppose the publication of antiquities, no matter where their modern provenance exists, provided that scholars disclose this information and note their unexcavated nature: one cannot ignore unexcavated objects, they exist, we cannot throw away the baby with the dirty bath water. The new Levy Foundation group will reject such disclosure. The archaeological discipline is fragmenting while too many scholars look the other way.

Oscar White Muscarella

Speaking of partage….when’s the Met going to start digging?

I had occasion to reread an article in The New York Times outlining the “Italian Agreement” and was reminded of something that surprised me at the time: part of the agreement includes the Met beginning excavations in Italy. From the NY Times, Feb. 22, 2006 (Arts section, “Italy and U.S. Sign Antiquities Accord”):

The agreement also allows the Met to conduct authorized excavations at its own expense in Italy, the fruits of which would be lent to the Met “for the time necessary for their study and restoration.”

Mr. de Montebello said that because the museum’s antiquities department was busypreparing for a major reorganization of its Greek and Roman collections, it had not decided which digs it would participate in.

Now that the reorganization of the Greek and Roman galleries is over, one wonders if this is in the works. And, for the Met, certainly partage would be a nicer arrangement than a long-term loan for study and restoration, as was the case with their Egyptian excavations at the beginning of the 20th century.

Context and the Morgantina Hoard

The exhibition in Italy of the Morgantina Hoard has been in the news recently and David Gill discusses this on the Looting Matters blog (“Morgantina Hoard: on display in Rome “). This was a group of silver vessels that was reportedly dug up illegally some time before 1981 when the Metropolitan Museum of New York bought it. It turns out that it had probably been looted from the ruins of a Greek house in Morgantina, Sicily, and excavations in the building – on the basis of information received from artefact hunter Giusseppe Mascara – revealed traces of severe looting and two holes were found from which it seems the silver vessels had been taken. Eventually the Metropolitan Museum agreed to the material returning to Italy.

Gill points out that knowing precisely where this particular group of objects (or rather two separate groups of objects now muddled up) had come from allowed them to be seen in the context of other items from that same context and its surroundings, which reveals the capability of that other information to add to our understanding of the objects themselves.

Archaeologist Malcolm Bell had found names scratched on the bottom of several vessels. These showed that the silver had belonged to a Morgantina family, named Eupolemos. The same name was found inscribed on a lead tablet in the Morgantina museum, and the tablet is the deed to a house in the area where the excavations had revealed the looters’ holes.

The New York Times and the Met: Too close for comfort (again)?

In The New York Times December 16 article. Andrew Jacobs writes about a Chinese delegation’s recent visit to US museums to document objects that have been plundered from Yuanmingyuan (Beijing’s “Old Summer Palace”). In 1860, the imperial palace was looted and burnt to the ground by order of James Bruce Elgin, the son of Lord Elgin who took the famed Parthenon sculptures from Greece.

Describing the delegation as a “treasure hunting team” whose effort is little more than a public relations show, the reporter characterizes the group as a bunch of bumbling bureaucrats barging into American museums in a noisy campaign to further its nationalistic agenda, stirring up popular sentiment against the West.

Contrast it to a similar report by The Telegraph about the same delegation’s visit to the British Museum, which appeared on October 19. Entitled “China to study British Museum for looted artefacts”, The Telegraph’s story has a noticeably different tone. Even more significant is The Times article’s absence of the palace director Chen Mingjie’s statement about the delegation’s mission. “We have clarified that this is an attempt to document rather than to seek a return of those relics even though we do hope some previously unknown relics might surface and some might be returned to our country during our tracing effort.” The Telegraph quoted Mr. Chen.

This is a curious omission, given the clear indication that the director was interviewed for both articles. Did The New York Times not ask the director why the team was visiting the Met but decided to draw its own conclusions? Or did it simply choose not to include it?

As one of the nearly 120 online comments from The Times article states: “This bemused and farcical account does a great disservice to readers who rely on the New York Times for objective and insightful journalism.” We agree. What a pity that The New York Times has once again not given its readers what they deserve: a full story, with a balanced view.

In “A critical look at U.S. media coverage of antiquities issues” author and journalist Roger Atwood criticizes The New York Times that its “coverage of the Met looks complacent and credulous”. Referring to the fact that its chairman emeritus, Arthur Ochs Sulzberger, has long been a member of the Board of Trustees of the Met, Atwood questions “whether the Times is too close to the Met to cover it properly”. Indeed, this latest article begs the question: are the Chinese delegation’s questions regarding provenance of the Met’s collection too close for comfort?

Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Oscar Muscarella’s "Fifth Column" of Plunder Culture

All too often, debates about cultural property are made to look simply like battles between curators/collectors/dealers and archaeologists. In an article published in Studies in Honor of Altan Çilingiroglu. A Life Dedicated to Urartu on the Shores of the Upper Sea, Eds. H. Saglamtimur, et al. Arkeoloji ve Sanat Yayinlari, Istanbul, 2009, “The Fifth Column Within the Archaeological Realm: The Great Divide,” Dr. Oscar White Muscarella looks at the network of plunder in all the complexity it deserves, and pays special attention to an overlooked accomplice in the continued destruction of the past.

According to Muscarella there are four visible mutually supporting columns operating within the realm of “Plunder Culture.” These groups, in order, are: on-site looters or tombaroli, smugglers and local dealers, professional antiquities dealers, and lastly, wealthy collectors, including museums and universities, both public and private.

Cultural heritage may be endangered most, however, by the fifth invisible column whose members are within the archaeological community. Muscarella illustrates the ways in which professional archaeologists facilitate Plunder Culture, and their participation does not just include the more obvious examples of performing authenticity evaluations for wealthy collectors. Members of the archaeological community also enable plunder by accepting money, invitations, committee memberships and appointments from fourth column institutions with dishonorable acquisition policies and compromised attitudes toward the value of context.

The hypocrisy in these affiliations has yet to be broadly acknowledged by the media and by the field of archaeology. The members of the fifth column have yet to be publicly denounced, and as a result:

They continue to flourish, their activities proceed successfully and unabated, they get awarded – revealing that the discipline of archaeology has no comprehensive sense of itself, no unclouded self-knowledge, no awareness of its moral and academic weakness.

Muscarella is unafraid to name names (of both the good and bad, the individuals and institutions) and avoids ambiguous and ineffective discourse about the problems of cultural property. He urges archaeologists to reconsider the consequences of their professional, academic, and personal associations, and to those who consider themselves clean, he urges active participation in the protection of cultural heritage.

To join Dr. Muscarella’s SAFE tour at the Metropolitan Museum on Friday, October 23 at 6:30 PM, you can buy tickets from our website.

Ethics in the Museum?


A great topic to be discussing in this day and age! With the Metropolitan Museum of Art reviewing its policies and museum associations like the American Association of Museums drafting new guidelines, ethics in the museum should be discussed.

The Institute of Museum Ethics has announced the 1st Biennial Graduate Student Conference: “New Directions in Museum Ethics.” The event will be held on November 14, 2009 at Seton Hall University. Visit the website to register!

Oscar Muscarella on "Rogues Gallery"

Archaeologist Oscar Muscarella reviews Rogues’ Gallery: The Secret History of the Moguls and the Money That Made the Metropolitan Museum by Michael Gross in Scoop. As we have come to expect from the outspoken critic of the illicit antiquities trade and the plunder of artifacts, the review is filled with details and stories only a true insider could tell.

Dr. Muscarella is the author of The Lie Became Great: The Forgery of Near Eastern Cultures and recently, The Veracity of “Scientific” Testing by Conservators.

After 45 years, Dr. Muscarella recently retired from the Met. He will continue to conduct SAFE Tours. Look out for upcoming schedule on the SAFE web site.

Using the AAMD Object Registry

After almost a year of inactivity on the Object Registry of the Association of Art Museum Directors (AAMD), it seems that a few more pieces have finally been added. Recently posted are acquisitions of sculptures from China, Mexico, and India by the Metropolitan Museum of Art. These are the first additions since the Portland Art Museum presented its Indian sculpture from the 11th century on the site.

Olmec sculpture, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2008.637

It was on June 4, 2008 that the registry was uploaded for public use thanks to initiatives of the Indianapolis Museum of Art. At that time, the AAMD published a new report on the Acquisition of Archaeological Materials and Ancient Art. The policy was reworked as a response to the “financial and reputational harm” experienced by museums being forced to return objects. These guidelines recognize the 1970 UNESCO Convention as the threshold for future antiquities acquisitions. However, neither the guidelines nor the registry are tailored to review existing collections, which is part of the American Association of Museums (AAM) Standards regarding Archaeological Material and Ancient Art published in July 2008.

Please feel free to browse and share this information as well as look into the provenance of these objects.

Art or Artifact? An opinion of “Beyond Babylon”

A brief review of the exhibition, Beyond Babylon: Art, Trade, and Diplomacy in the Second Millennium B.C. at the Metropolitan Museum of Art (Special Exhibitions: Beyond Babylon) allowed this author to reflect on current practices of exhibiting ancient artifacts. (A more comprehensive exhibition review was undertaken by Archaeology Magazine Editor Eti Bonn-Muller: ARCHAEOLOGY: The Art of Foreign Influence).

Participating institutions as well as foreign Ministries of Culture provided artifacts for display at the Metropolitan Museum of Art (MMA). Lebanon, Greece, and Egypt among many other source countries were an integral part of the exhibition. Loans from Turkey suggest good relations with the country after the 1993 return of the Lydian hoard. However, a large amount of loans also came from Western museums in France, the United Kingdom, and the United States. In each case, the source of the loan was documented on labels and plaques highlighting their contributions, also acknowledged in the glossy exhibition catalogue.
Read more. . .

In the extensive publication, the MMA included entries of objects that are not on display. Apparently, the Syrian government was very cooperative with the museum; however, their loans were not processed because it was “too difficult and risky” as suggested on a plaque fixed to the wall near the entrance. Initially, I thought this was posted as an admonishment by the museum of legislative restrictions and current politics. After further research, I discovered this curious addition refers to the 2008 amendment of the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act (FSIA) regarding the immunity of seizure for temporary loans further discussed in the AIA Statement on Attachment of Cultural Objects. It seems as though the MMA is admirably following established legal codes.

Within the gallery, the visitor is struck by an issue all too familiar in the fabrication of exhibitions, that some of the objects lack details about provenance. It is always remarkable to see that the funders’ or lenders’ names are displayed without fail. However, the visitor is not always presented with information regarding the history of where and how an object was found and came to be displayed. Didactic plaques claim certain objects originated in ‘suggested’ contexts based on stylistic criteria or are “said to have come from” somewhere. Further information is omitted, which, in all actuality, may not be known by either the collectors or the museums that possess the pieces. For an exhibition like this, provenance is an important aspect because of the desire to relate the object to the archaeological context in order to express the variety of cultures exhibited. A large section comprised of objects discovered from the Uluburun shipwreck shows that information is possible when a legitimate excavation occurs. We know exactly what was dredged up from the sea, where it laid in the ships hull, and the associated artifacts. Additionally, this information is widely published and publicly available.

The contextual information that is available from legitimate excavations is outlined in the exhibition catalogue. According to Philippe de Montebello in the Foreword, “The rich resources of the museums of western Europe, whose pioneering archaeological work in many of these lands has been rewarded with a division of the finds, have also ensured that we are able to present as full a picture as possible. . .” This statement is problematic for several reasons. It is a shame that the “most significant works” are found outside of their countries of origin, but a bigger shame that contexts have been lost by collectors who ripped treasures from the ground. The sordid origins of archaeology and the glories of partage have been duly noted in other publications. Scholars argue that the restitution of historically looted artifacts is not the primary issue, but instead that looting of archaeological sites today is the major problem. I agree, but also feel that amends still need to be made and congratulations should not be so heartily issued to institutions that pioneered the rape of the past.

Overall, Beyond Babylon emphasizes the good relations between the MMA and its bed-fellows in order to organize this blockbuster exhibition. Similarly, Babylon: Myth and Reality is on display at the British Museum, attesting to the current interest in the subject and archaeology. The extent of material is admirable as well as the small fortune invested to organize and logistically realize the exhibition. However, visitors should be better equipped to ask tough questions about current issues. The audience should emerge from the exhibition wondering what is going on in the here-and-now at the sites highlighted. Excavations are taking place beyond the 1980s discovery of the Uluburun shipwreck and are only fleetingly alluded to, for example, the 2002 excavation of the Royal Palace of Qatna (Tell Mishrifeh). The introductory text offers good explanations of the various chambers of the tomb, while mounted photographs and a slide video replace the display of objects from the site.

Others more experienced with the subject matter than I would be better suited to point out the missing pieces and inconsistencies. I would be happy to entertain other comments and critiques. For one engaged in battling the crisis of the illicit antiquities trade and the looting of archaeological sites, it is a highly motivating exhibition that represents how artifacts are still displayed as art. However, this exhibition can also represent the future of museums where loans are issued for temporary exhibitions rather than continuing to support the acquisition of illicit objects.

The Metropolitan Museum of Art releases "Collection Management Policy"

SAFE is pleased to confirm a June 17 report CultureGrrl blog post that “the Met will indeed adhere to AAMD’s new, stricter standard.”

In an email sent to Prof. Colin Renfrew and SAFE president Cindy Ho on January 2, the Met’s Elyse Topalian, Vice President for Communications said:

“I understand from an internet advertisement that you intend to deliver the SAFE Beacon award lecture, entitled “Combating the Illicit Antiquities Trade: the 197O Rule as a Turning Point (or How the Metropolitan Museum lags behind the Getty)” and that you “ask how long the Trustees of the Metropolitan Museum can maintain the policies that led them to acquire the notorious ‘Euphronios Vase’?”.

In response to your question, please be advised that in June 2008 the Executive Committee of the Board of Trustees of the Metropolitan Museum of Art accepted the Association of Art Museum Directors’s June 4, 2008 Guidelines on the Acquisition of Archaeological Materials and Ancient Art, and on November 12, 2008, the Board of Trustees adopted a revised Collections Management Policy incorporating those guidelines. I enclose a copy of the Museum’s Collections Management Policy for your reference. Philippe de Montebello served on the committee developing the AAMD guidelines, as he did for the museum group’s 2004 guidelines.”

SAFE is now pleased to make available the Metropolitan Museums’s new Collections Management Policy to our readers, which Ms. Topalian has told us is “not confidential” and “posting is due to be completed soon” on the Met’s website (www.metmuseum.org).

In addition to the Beacon Award lecture in Philadelphia Professor Colin Renfrew will deliver a lecture in New York “Combating the Illicit Antiquities Trade: a Time for Clarity”. Prof. Renfrew tells SAFE that, “although the AAMD guidelines are only advisory…I think this is a huge step forward.” This newly published “Collection Management Policy” will be studied further and discussed in Professor Renfrew’s upcoming lectures.

SAFE welcomes this news as the Met now conforms with the requirement that museums disclose their acquisition policies. Museums play an essential role in the safeguarding of cultural heritage, especially the Met, as one of the world’s leading and most beloved cultural institutions. (Rafael Macia/Photo Researchers, Inc.)

Oscar Muscarella reviews "Archaeology, Cultural Heritage, and the Antiquities Trade"

Dr. Oscar Muscarella, expert on the ancient Near East and a tireless, vocal advocate against the looting of antiquities, gave praise to SAFE’s work in a book review published in the International Journal of Classical Tradition. Muscarella reviewed the Archaeology, Cultural Heritage, and the Antiquities Trade, a volume edited by Neil Brodie – winner of the 2008 SAFE Beacon Award – Morag Kersel, Christina Luke, and Kathryn Walker Tubb. In his piece, Muscarella wrote:

“[Paula Kay] Lazrus is the only author in this volume to cite the organization called Saving Antiquities for Everyone (SAFE; pp. 272-273), created and guided by non-professional-archaeologist citizens…from the beginning they determined that membership is open to all citizens, academics and “lay” people, based on the reality that the plunder problem is a global issue, and not one solely for academics. SAFE is unique in the United States, and indeed, there is no academic organization…that equals their goals of involving the public, as well as their on-going accomplishments.”

Roger Atwood, author of Stealing History: Tomb Raiders, Smugglers, and the Looting of the Ancient World, told SAFE that in his review, Dr. Muscarella “is spot-on, as usual.”

Join Muscarella on November 7 at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, where he will lead a SAFE Tour through the Ancient Near Eastern and other collections. To read Dr. Muscarella’s book review in its entirety, please click here.

The Met sends off Museum Director with "pieces of history"

The Metropolitan Museum of Art paid tribute yesterday to its outgoing director Philippe de Montebello with the show “The Philippe de Montebello Years: Curators Celebrate Three Decades of Acquisitions.” which opened with the 16th century tapestry “The Triumph of Fame”.  The exhibition, which Holland Cotter of the New York Times called “A Banquet of World Art, 30 Years in the Making” was described as a “priceless send off” by National Public Radio.

During his tenure as director De Montebello is known to have acquired 84,000 pieces for the Met, which he calls an “encyclopedic museum.” In recent years, the museum attracted much controversy over the acquisition of artifacts that were shown to have been looted. The objects include:

• The “Lydian Hoard” (returned to Turkey in 1993)

• Two Angkor statues (returned to Cambodia in 1997)

• The “Euphronios Krater” (returned to Italy in 2008)

and 15 pieces of Hellenistic silver known as The Morgantina Silver, which will remain in the museum until 2010.

SAFE wishes Philippe de Montebello well as he becomes the first professor to teach the history and culture of museums at New York University’s Institute of Fine Arts, and welcomes the museum’s new director, Thomas P. Campbell.

Photo from from AP Photo by Mary Altaffer: Philippe de Montebello, left, director of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, is joined by James R. Houghton, chairman of the Metropolitan’s board of trustees, January 2008.